Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Community of Writers and Readers

The world of crime fiction offers something special to readers and writers—a community of like-minded people and opportunities to get together and share books and discussion of the genre. The characters in our books seem just as real as the person sitting in the chair beside me, or the mailman who drops mail in the box every morning, and readers care about these characters sometimes just as much. During a conference in the 1990s a reader asked me about Chief Joe Silva’s family in the Mellingham series. That simple question led me to think harder about his family. The result was Last Call for Justice, which takes Joe back for a family reunion, where an old grudge surfaces and an old crime is solved.

Anyone who knows me knows I love talking and writing about India. To date there are four novels in the Anita Ray series, beginning with Under the Eye of Kali. Readers can count on a lot of local color as well as references to Indian food, and one of the most fun things I did was write up a couple of recipes to give away at events. Some writers have bookmarks and business cards; I have recipe cards. And sometimes a member of a panel audience will suggest another Indian dish for me to try.

Last week, at the Marstons Mills Public Library, I had the pleasure of talking about crime fiction with two other writers to a small but attentive audience. Connie Johnson Hambley, Carolyn Marie Wilkins and I write very different crime novels, but we have similar experiences as writers. We ran out of time to answer all the questions the audience members wanted to ask, so here is an answer to one of the questions. Jill asked what British mysteries do I enjoy reading? I didn’t have enough time to answer, so this blog post is for Jill. Here’s a list of authors I hope to read this year—I have a stack of their books ready and waiting. Now, if I just had more time . . .

Over the coming year, I hope to read books by M.C. Beaton, Frances Brody, Anne Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Peter Lovesey, Charles Todd, Peter Robinson, Ashley Weaver, and Jacqueline Winspear. I also hope to fit in one or two books by Rhys Bowen, Peter Dickinson, Felix Francis, and Anne Perry. I’m sad that Ruth Rendell is no longer with us, but I haven’t yet read all of her books, so I still have some to look forward to.

These authors are only some of those whose books are lined up on a bureau in the upstairs hallway. I’m working my way through them slowly but surely. And if I go to my local library’s fall book sale, I’m sure to find more to add to the list. But these names should be enough to get you, Jill, and others started.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ideas Are Everywhere

For the last several months, our city has been installing new sidewalks and water pipes. This has meant shutting down long sections of major streets and bringing in many pieces of big equipment while macadam is torn up, sewer drains are moved, and water pipes are replaced. We awake at seven in the morning to heavy drills and tin drums rolling around.

Because our section of the street is the widest, the construction crew has been storing dozens of granite curbs and other items in this section. Trucks travel back and forth tamping down temporary trenches, sending up swirls of dirt. Our sidewalks are torn up, plastic barrels narrow the street even more, and our driveways are shut off for days, even weeks, at a time. The lines for cable and the telephone are scattered across the dirt, and one neighbor, with two young school-age children, lost both for over a week. Apparently these lines going to be reinstalled about two inches below the surface, without the protection of plastic pipes or depth below the ground.

And through it all I have the same thought: if people really wonder where my ideas as a writer come from, they should look out my window. I have imagined hapless construction workers clearing the lawn to lay out the new sidewalk and digging up a body. I have turned carelessly buried plastic water bottles into bags of stolen gems haphazardly lost and now gone forever, or until . . . I have imagined neighbors arguing endlessly with City Hall about the path of the new sidewalk, all in a desperate attempt to prevent someone from digging up—what? The trash collector is required to come before seven in the morning, and at that early hour, before we have full light, is witness to more than he should know about.

If you want to know where I get my ideas, just look out my window. Or better yet, take a walk through the neighborhood. Ideas are everywhere.